Tag Archives: Lev Ivanov

Review: The Nutcracker, Dallas Ballet Company

Closing this week on Sunday Dec. 9. Next performance on Friday Dec. 7 at 7:30pm

Mice and Men

Dallas Ballet Company shows the value added with male dancers of all ages and abilities in its annual Nutcracker performance at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.
The Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker. Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Garland — In addition to musically enchanting choreography and well-placed comedic moments, what Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performance—which has performances with a second cast Dec. 7-9—also had an abundance of talented young men playing pivotal roles in every scene of one of the best recreations of The Nutcracker I have seen from a local pre-professional ballet company in quite some time.

A fast-paced show that ended right on two hours, DBC’s Nutcracker was a whirlwind of bold colors, delicious looking props, splendid dancing and beautiful storytelling that brought new life to the 300-year-old ballet, which features movement by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and a score written by Pyotr Ilyich Tch Tchaikovsky. The DBC’s performance contained elements from the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann as well as moments from George Balanchine’s Nutcracker, which is the stage production that audiences are most familiar with.

The story begins at the Silberhaus home where the family entertains its close friends with a grand Christmas Eve celebration. The party includes a visit by Herr Drosselmeyer (local actor Randolph McKee) who sets the action for the rest of the performance when he gifts a nutcracker doll to his goddaughter Clara played by the charming Anna Speer. This makes Clara’s brother, the endearingly awkward Julien Pham-Davis as Fritz, unhappy, and he shows his displeasure by breaking her nutcracker doll near the end of the party.

This was the only somber moment in an otherwise jubilant scene that was made possible by the fun and technically fair dance sequences executed by both the young children, Clara’s friends and the adults. It was also made possible with some well-timed comedic moments such the side-eye Malcolm Miranda (Butler) gave to party guests, the assistant governess trying hopelessly to catch the coats being tossed her way and the adorable little party girl who tripped Fritz and then smiled gleefully to the audience.

After all the guest, leave Clara falls asleep, and when she awakens she is surrounded by numerous mice shaking their tails and cleaning their whiskers. At this point in the show the dancers began to integrate the set pieces into the action, which is something I have not seen done to this extent in other local Nutcracker productions. For example, mice jumped out of the grandfather clock, and four troublemaking rats ate cheese on the couch while watching the Nutcracker (Ciaran Barlow) and Rat King (Christian Otto) battle it out center stage. Benjamin Barr, Trey Hileman, Ashton Pham-Davis and John Scullion had the audience laughing out loud with their stage antics, which included playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with the little soldiers standing up in a straight line upstage and even added pop culture references with the Floss dance and Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown’s touchdown dance.

DBC’s Sophia Jackson and Chase Raine as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: David C. Harris/Times Frames Photography

Once the Rat King is defeated, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are led into the Kingdom of snow where the Snow Queen (Sophia Jackson) and the Snow King (Chase Raine) are waiting for them. It was a rough start for the couple with their first lift, where Raine was supposed to arm press Jackson over his head. The error created a beat of tension for the duo before they completed the phrase with a fishbowl dip. Still, the couple didn’t let the mishap affect the rest of their partnering, which included various assisted jete leaps and press up shoulder sits. Raine was mindful of his hand placement when he assisted Jackson through a number of pirouettes and promenade in attitude, while Jackson tended to purse her lips in concertation before any turn, leg extension or lift, but then completed every movement with refinement.

The snow corps was also elegant in their body lines and group formations and attacked the springy pointe work with matching enthusiasm. And while their footwork started out heavy with the opening bourrees, the sound of their pointe shoes lessened as the dance went on.
In the second act of the show, Clara and her Prince are welcomed to the Kingdom of Sweets by a troupe of angels in the form of the youngest company members dressed in floor length gold gowns and bright smiles. As the couple is guided to their candied-covered throne The Sugar Plum Fairy (New York City Ballet’s Sterling Hyltin) and her Cavalier (New York City Ballet’s Andrew Veyette) make a grand entrance to much applause.

The second half of the show maintained the quick pace of the first half with divertissements that played to the dancers’ strengths, including flexibility, stamina, control, musicality and self-expression. Miguel Falcon and Macy Wheeler with Luke Hileman, Carlie Jacobs, Christian Otto and Audrey Ratcliff kicked it off with a sassy, syncopated performance in the Spanish variation filled with skirt swishes, grand battements and musical partnering.

Terrence Martin returned as a guest artist for DBC in the Arabian dance again this year, where he showed off his athetic ability in a couple of back hand springs as Lydia Louder and Isabella Poscente rhythmically moved around him. The Chinese variation, led by Courtney Raine, featured intricate pointe work and matching fan work.

The show had not one but four Russian Babas who were then matched with four young ladies in a very loud and boisterous dance number filled with stomping, clapping and unexpected partnering sequences. The grandest moment came when the boys paired off and then linked arms with each other and then two girls on their outside arms and began to run in a circle until they had enough momentum to lift the girls off the floor.

In DBC’s rendition, Mother Ginger (Gloria Ewerz) directed over a dozen gingerbread children through a series of elementary ballet moves as they waved their wooden spoons in the air. The Pastry Chefs in the back waving the oversized gingerbread men on large sticks were also a nice touch.

The Reeds didn’t quite keep up with the punctuated nuances in their music, but Lead Reeds Veronica Britt, Kendyll Jacobs and Tatum Jenkins all delivered strong performances. Flower leads Charlotte Kelsey and Christian Otto lacked chemistry, which impacted some of the physical connections in their partnering sequences, but they were much more confidant in their solo sections. At the same time the flower corps were enchanting with their graceful arm placements, accented pointe work and picturesque ending pose.

All this glitz and glam paved the way for guest artists Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the grand pas deux. The couple drew attention to the tender love story between the two characters with their purposeful hand and body connections as well as their expressive facials aimed at one another. Both sat in the pocket of the music, which heightened the audience’s admiration for the two professional dancers. Hyltin seems made for the Sugar Plum Fairy role with her breathy port de bra arms and risky pointe work. Veyette’s performance was a great example of what is expected from male ballet dancers in these classical roles.

In addition to his strength and dexterity in his solos, Veyette also showed the audinece what a strong support system he can be for Hyltin. Sometimes this meant stepping back while Hyltin performed a series of petit allegro jumps or simply walking in a circle while holding her hand. And of course Veyette was there to assist Hyltin when she jumped in the air and to effortlessly lift her over his head to the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience.

Audiences only get a taste of this type of partnering in most pre-  professional Nutcracker performances. But with a large cast that featured more than 20 young boys, teenagers and grown men, DBC’s Nutcracker performance gave the audience a unique opportunity to see traditional partnering moves in almost every dance sequence throughout the entire show, which then helped the female dancers to shine brighter.

» The second cast in Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performs Dec. 7-9 at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Timeless Tale

Carolyn Judson in TBT's Swan Lake. Photo: Steven Visneau
Carolyn Judson in TBT’s Swan Lake. Photo: Steven Visneau

Fort Worth — Many critics would say they have a love/hate relationship with the ballet Swan Lake. Hate because we have seen it re-done and over-done so many times. Love because when executed correctly we can find ourselves at a loss for words. These conflicting views might have something to do with the ballet’s own fractured history. The Swan Lake we know today derives from the production choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s composition and premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895.

What many might not know is that Tchaikovsky actually composed the score in the mid-1870s and that the first production of Swan Lake was performed on stage in Moscow under the title The Lake of the Swans. It also may come as a surprise to some that the original version was a product of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre before it was revived in St. Petersburg. Petipa and Ivanov also had different ideas when it came the ballet’s choreography due to their dissimilar dance backgrounds; Petipa with his Italian and Parisian influences and Ivanov with his Imperial Russian influences. Their contrasting styles helped create one of the most challenging and coveted roles in ballet: Odette/Odile.

Swan Lake tells the story of the beautiful Odette who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer and only love can break the spell. The sorcerer plays a trick on the prince so that he falls in love with the imposter black swan thus dooming Odette. Instead of spending an eternity as a swan Odette chooses to kill herself and once the prince realizes what he has done he decides to die with her. Not exactly the happily-ever-after audiences might expect.

It’s definitely a risk for Texas Ballet Theater to close its season with such an infamous ballet, but if dress rehearsal on Thursday was any indication audiences are in for a well-balanced performance. The opening party scene in the woods started off a little rocky, but quickly gained momentum. At first, the dancers’ pantomiming felt a bit forced and Principal Dancer Lucas Priolo’s stage entrance lacked energy. But as the scene progressed the dancers began to lose themselves in the movement and story thanks in part to the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra—the first time TBT has has live orchestra accompaniment since 2008.

The two female soloists in the party scene displayed beautiful control and amazing fortitude as they seamlessly executed multiple entrechat trois and echappe jumps into a slow arabesque hold. Simon Wexler upped the ante with his mind-blowing jumps and technical dexterity. He attacks all his movement with such vigor that viewers are just waiting for him to fall out of a turn or fumble a landing. He does neither of these things.

Priolo’s movement becomes more fluid and texturized when he dances with Carolyn Judson (Odette/Odile) during the lake scene. His quiet charm, stoic lines and breezy partnering skills are only a few of the qualities audiences are going to miss when he retires after this performance season. With her long lines, winged feet and angelic face, Judson is the quintessential swan princess. But don’t let her willowy frame and divine adagio work fool you. As soon as the tempo picks up she begins fluttering her arms frantically as she aggressively bourrees across the floor.

The corps of swans also has the difficult task of executing every head tilt, wrist flick and body angle in complete unison and at a quick-moving pace. If one dancer’s leg is a little higher than the others the whole illusion of the dance is scattered. This part of the ballet is so well-known because of its uniformity. The corps accomplishes this by breathing together as a group, giving off a tranquil vibe even as they are moving quickly in and out of formations while performing tricky foot work.

The return to live music will be talked about just as much as the dancing. The orchestra had to be cut because of financial difficulties at the start of the recession, but appears to slowly be making a comeback. In the 2014-15 season, TBT will have two productions with the FWSOThe Sleeping Beauty and The Merry Widow.

Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Swan Lake runs May 30-June 1, 2014 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.